Maj. Eugene McCarthy made the ultimate sacrifice 25 years ago.
The 1973 graduate of Nazareth H.S., East Flatbush, was the first Brooklyn casualty of the 1991 Gulf War.
To honor his legacy each year around Memorial Day, Nazareth has hosted an annual 5K memorial race through Marine Park along the same paths Maj. McCarthy traversed when he was home on leave.
This year’s race was held on June 4, and each year, Maj. McCarthy’s family members and friends, as well as the Nazareth boys’ and girls’ track teams, take part in the run.
“Eugene McCarthy was an alum of the school; he was a Kingsman,” said George Williams, assistant track coach at Nazareth. “Coming out here and just putting in 40 to 50 minutes of blood and sweat, it just makes a connection for them (the Nazareth students). It makes it real for them.”
While the current members of the track team were not around during the Gulf War, hearing the stories of how Maj. McCarthy valiantly served his country motivates them to participate in the run.
“It encourages us to do our best,” said senior Walkins Ineus. “He (Maj. McCarthy) inspires us to continue our effort while running and do the best we can.”
The McCarthy family grew up in St. Vincent Ferrer parish, East Flatbush. Maj. McCarthy was inspired to join the armed forces by his father, Eugene Sr., who was a naval storekeeper stationed at Floyd Bennett Field, Marine Park, at the start of World War II.
After completing Army Ranger School, Maj. McCarthy volunteered for several tours of duty as a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). He graduated No. 1 in his DEA Training Academy class.
In the early 1990s, Maj. McCarthy was on active duty as a helicopter pilot during Operation Snowcap, a counter-narcotics operation in the jungles of Peru. He then began volunteering for a special Cobra Unit in Operation Desert Storm.
On Feb. 2, 1991, he and his fellow pilot were killed when their UAH-1 Cobra helicopter accidentally crashed in Saudi Arabia while on an escort mission. He is buried at Calverton Cemetery, Wading River, L.I.
In addition to the annual race, the Maj. McCarthy Memorial Triangle – the first Gulf War monument in New York City located at the intersection of East 31st Street, Avenue N and Kings Highway in Marine Park – honors the fallen hero’s memory. Visiting the memorial and taking part in the race each year have become traditions for Maj. McCarthy’s family members.
“It would make my uncle very happy to see that we’re all still together and still close-knit and that we still remember him,” said Caitlin Picht, his niece and goddaughter who is a biology teacher at St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows.
“It reminds us of all the men and women who serve today and the sacrifice that they’re making. We’re hoping that they come home safely, and we pray for them and their families.”
Proceeds from the race benefit the Nazareth Cares Scholarship Program, which provides tuition assistance to students attending the East Flatbush high school. Even 25 years later, Maj. McCarthy’s impact is still being felt in the community to help keep the school going strong.
While there’s no doubt Maj. McCarthy has been missed over the years, his sacrifice to his nation lives on through the annual race.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.